Friday, September 18, 2015

Land of the Dead

Land of the Dead (aka El mundo del los muertos)
Gilberto Martínez Solares

What does it take to make a Santo movie weird? The very basic premise that a masked wrestler fights crime already drifts over into that territory. If the films had played it safe, they could have comfortably stayed with that premise for a very long time. Thankfully they didn’t, and we get treated to Santo in the Old West, Santo the mad scientist, and Santo the mysterious knight in the 17th century.

" I like my men shiny."
The premise of Land of the Dead, isn't far off from the plot of the Brainiac (1962). In 1666, as witches are burned at the stake, the head witch makes a deal with Satan to kill the Silver Knight (Santo in a wonderfully florid silver outfit). The Devil sends a warrior to help.  That warrior is Blue Demon, a puppet for Satan who's soul is trapped in hell. The woman fails to kill Santo, and is taken to hell instead. Cut to modern day (1970) and the ghost of the witch succeeds in possessing a distant relative. She summons some ghost wrestlers and proceeds to start killing off the descendants of the people responsible for her her death in 1666. Santo soon comes to understand that he must rescue the poor woman's soul from hell before her evil ancestor can cause even more havoc.

There is a wonderful eerie tone throughout much of this film. It opens with some gruesome and well realized human burnings, and then stays with the 1666 setting for a good half-hour of the 87 minute run. There are many strange moments, such as when the witches summon Blue Demon, he's in modern day wrestling gear. A fair amount of footage is lifted from Mario Bava's Hercules in the Haunted World (1961), and indeed the final act of the film is very similar to that one.

One of the most surprising moments is seeing Santo getting stabbed in the ring. It was a shock to see the story actually pay off on the threat of knife being produced in the ring. Santo is rushed into an operating room and we are treated to a some real footage of open heart surgery ( the same sequence that was in Night of the Bloody Apes (1969)). Santo seemingly recovers from major surgery within a day or two and is up on his feet and ready to punch ghosts (must be that high TR level).

"Either this ring goes.. or I do..."
The major fault of the film is promising another Santo and Blue Demon team-up only to give Blue Demon two whole scenes with Santo. One of them being the obligatory battle against one another. When Blue Demon appears later, he fights, says his good-byes, and is never heard from again. The whole film ends soon after on an abrupt note.

Far and away the weirdest Santo movie I've seen, beginning with the extended historical prologue, to the violent stabbing, and then having Santo running around Hell throwing rocks at ghouls. Land of the Dead is notably bizarre and when you're talking about it in the larger body of Santo films that is saying something.

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